Football by the Numbers: QB efficiency

Locker over Luck may not be a far-fetched notion. (Getty)
Locker over Luck may not be a far-fetched notion. (Getty)

Let’s kick off our Fantasy Football by the Numbers column by looking at the quarterback position.

My working assumption here is that efficiency in generating fantasy points is more projectable than volume. That’s the bonus. So if you have the efficient scorer, he doesn't need a lot of volume. However, if he gets it, look out. Conversely, the inefficient scorers like Matthew Stafford and Andrew Luck are very volume reliant, so what if they happen to play this year on better defensive teams?

Our stat here of fantasy points per play counts pass attempts, sacks and rushing attempts as plays. And for points it uses standard scoring (point every 20 yards passing, every 10 yards rushing, 4 points per TD pass, 6 points per TD run and minus 2 points for every pick).

This is nothing new. The numbers guys are all over this stat. But I have always used yards per pass attempt as a proxy for this scoring efficiency and have found it doesn’t matter even if the quarterback generates a lot of points via his running. YPA is more handy for us as a proxy for efficiency. But to test it, let’s lay that stat over the ranking of the efficient scorers at QB and see if I’m correct that YPA is the key to unlocking efficiency not just with yards but also with all facets of QB scoring, regardless of QB running volume.

As you can see, Michael Vick is an exception, perhaps because he’s old school. The new running QBs are highly efficient in YPA. And even Vick, now backing up Geno Smith on the Jets, was great at YPA in his limited action last year for Philadelphia.

I’ve included plays because it gets us away from some myths, especially relating to Russell Wilson. His volume is always measured by passing attempts. But it tends not to include his runs. Plus he’s the league leader in scrambling on designed pass plays. Last year, he scrambled 49 times for 425 yards. The only other QB with more than 400 scramble yards was Kaepernick (406 on 48 scrambles). There’s a higher point probability on his scrambles than on his passes, so these scrambles have more value than standard passing attempts; they’re like super plays.

Also, as a side note, do not use these point totals as an estimate for the upcoming season because we, of course, are converting every yard into points and that does not happen in-season.

What this means for us is that Kaepenick and Wilson are solid values in the middle-late rounds where they’re being drafted. Seattle’s defense is not going to be better. Marshawn Lynch has so much volume in his career that his best days are probably behind him. Plus Wilson is really good. Any of these things can result in more Wilson volume and all of them combined will result in much more. The same argument holds true for Kaepernick, just substitute Frank Gore for Lynch.

The cutoff for what we’re seeking is a half-point per play. We lose Vick with the Jets deploying him as a backup. But Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers are dirt cheap in standard, one-QB, 12-team leagues.

The players below the threshold I’d avoid. Stafford, Luck, Matt Ryan and Jay Cutler all carry bigger price tags than Roethlisberger and Rivers. I will stipulate that all but Cutler are great volume bets. But it’s still just a bet, not a guarantee. Plus the Steelers defense may be terrible, so why can’t Roethlisberger get good volume, too? And we’ve seen through his career he can do more with it. Now, normalizing for 600 plays, that’s only an 18-point advantage for Roethlisberger over, say, Ryan. But it is more and he costs less. And look at Roethlisberger’s YPA. He’s underachieved in points because he’s been in a lower-volume environment where he hasn’t had to score as much. That could change now, with Roethlisberger remaining just as good.

Cutler didn’t do nearly as much as journeyman Josh McCown last year in Chicago. Why are we betting on him to do it this year? Dalton is overrated, too, even as a sleeper. Give me Rivers and Roethlisberger every time.

And look at Locker, who is completely off the radar. That is a good number, despite a weak YPA. But Locker has had relatively few plays and could get better in YPA, especially if the weapons in Tennessee improve. Either way, his running gives him a nice floor — if he can stay healthy. Why can’t Locker outscore Luck this year? It’s hard to argue that’s impossible given that Locker has more points per play. And the guy who gets Locker doesn’t even have to be right because he’s rostered Locker for free, basically, not a fourth- or fifth-round pick.

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